A Caution Before Moving To Panama

I was reading a post by my friend Larry, who recently left Panama to return to the states for health reasons. During his military career, he had developed a form of tuberculosis and was having repeated trips to the hospital.

He finally read the writing on the wall and realized that his condition was only going to continue to worsen, if he tried to stay in Panama.

This is the big caution I give everyone. If you are moving to Panama, have a good physical checkup and make the decision to move only after you get a clean bill of health.

This is not to say that you can’t get treated in Panama for most conditions, but the more complicated the problem, the higher the risk and the closer the bill will match treatment in the US. Add to that the fact that in most hospitals, you will not be getting state of the art treatment. Plus, Medicare is not honored in Panama and insurance is not any cheaper here. It is also much more difficult to get reimbursed.

Now if you are healthy when you move and you come here and get on the healthy diet that Panama can provide you, one containing fresh fruits and vegetables grown just a few miles from where you live. toss in a regimen of good exercise, which can be obtained by walking around this beautiful country, then you might outlive your expectancy in the US. (That may have set the record for the longest sentence I have ever written in this blog)

Certainly the stress level is less here, as long as you don’t mind waiting in long lines to pay your bills, and you don’t get too frustrated because your communication skills are not as good as they ought to be.

I believe healthcare is the first thing you have to feel comfortable about before you pack up and move to Panama. If you come here and like it, then you may decide that this it the place you want to live out your life. However, I have run into many people, through my visits to the hospitals, that are wishing they could figure out how to get back to the states because they know they are going to die in that hospital if they don’t.

I miss Larry being here. I enjoyed his sense of humor. I know that there are many things about the US that didn’t set well with him and he really wasn’t happy about having to move back, but from his recent post, I can see that he knows that moving back was the only way that would allow him to enjoy more tomorrows.

15 thoughts on “A Caution Before Moving To Panama

  1. Pensamos Quedarnos en Panama. As you watch the news, you may have noticed that the doctors in the states are quitting, health insurance is unaffordable, Medicare is not accepted in most places and the best medical system is turning into a nightmare where the government decides whether you are covered or not. I would rather slowly die here than face the conditions that are taking shape in the USA. I love Panama and we stay.

  2. Eyes wide open. That is all I ask for from anyone that moves here. I know, of the people I have visited in the hospitals at the request of the Embassy, no more than 20% left the hospital alive. Now how much longer they would have lived had their treatment been in the US, I can’t say.

    I still maintain that a complete physical prior to moving is a wise decision. I did it and found a hernia that needed to be repaired. Had I not done that in the US and moved here and it ruptured, I might have died before I got to the hospital. This is because I was living in Boquete when I first moved here and you never know how long it will take to get down the mountain

    I also like it here and have no plan of moving back. I listed this post as a caution and nothing more.

  3. As I replied to Holly Carter when she was telling about them signing up for Panama health insurance, we must be in a better situation than most , We pay $150.00 amonth for ins from former worl for the State of LA., and $105.00 for Medicare. Covers everything with no co-pays, except for hearing aids, glasses, and dental. I like soup, can see well enough, and have heard all I need to from Edna ! $ 100.00 for a hospital stay , no matter how long, and home health and physical theraphy is included . No limits on Dr’s visits, so we think we are well fixed, and will not be subject to Obama care for our health insurance ! Thanks for the good advice, enjoy reafing your blog, see you in September on our visit. Robert Smiley

  4. Hospitals are statistically the worst place to be…more people die there than any other…and as far as “best care” is concerned..I know 3 countries that all say their care is the best…France , Sweden and the US…the trick is to stay healthy ,and if you cannot, even in the best care , many dont make it….I just had a good friend succumb at age 52, after millions of dollars spent to keep him alive..at Houston MD Anderssons and in Florida….my thought is , when its your turn , its your turn…but try to keep healthy, no matter where you live, and enjoy it as long as you can….

  5. I am very sorry to disagree, but Panama City does have state of the art Health Centers in Panama City and excellent doctors. The government is building a new hospital in David and other provinces. Our Health system serves all panamanians and foreigners. The U.S. don’t even serve americans if you don’t have an expensive insurance and still you won’t get what you need. I lived in the US 16 years and could not get that state of the art care even when I was paying $700 a month of insurance with Kaiser Permanente. Also, does not agree with your statement that costs of insurance are quite the same. Compare $700 in California to $180 in Panama with Panamerican Life Insurance Co. Nowhere in the U.S. you can get state of the art treatment with a $160 a month insurnace unless you end up with a huge bill and selling your house. That 20% life expectancy you refer to I don’t know because I also worked with Peace Corps in Panama City and had many american volunteers seen and never had a single death. On the contrary, they were very satisfied with the care and the hospitals.
    My son is a dentist and worked in Las Tablas for 3 years. He likes fishing in Pedasi and knows a large number of americans who go to Pedasi and several times he took some of them to the emergency room and they were taken care of saved the foot of one for only $3.00. As for tuberculosis, the government here gives free vaccination to babies and kids not only against it but against most diseases and is mandatory. I don’t know what is your point, because when you travel outside or to the U.S. you are required certain vaccinations. My husband was a Peace Corp assitant director who worked here in very poor communities far away from the big cities and he never got anything, not even parasites. We have been here almost three years and have not gotten anything. Our health has improved. Just had my lab tests done and went from 600 tryglicerides in the U.S. to 150 here. No diet whatsoever. All other results were perfect and no parasites and we drink water from the faucet.

  6. Noris, you said “The U.S. don’t even serve americans if you don’t have an expensive insurance and still you won’t get what you need.”

    and I have to disagree, not for myself as I have insurance , but have a friend who does not have any…he had a gallblader infection that resulted in surgery while travelling….his cost was nil. thats here in the US…
    In Sweden and france you have “free” Health care, but it just means higher taxes…you pay for it one way or another…for the ‘free’ care in the US , others pay also , somehow…but you DO get care. You are not dying in the streets as media like to tell.

  7. Excellent info Don. I’ve been thru the medical mill both here n in the USSA. All I can say is that for major medical issues it’s a coin toss as far as costs go. As far as the best medical facilities and doctors goes…. I found that they are comparable for what I needed. The medical industry in the USSA is just a 6 minute mill with little or no real medical input to the patient. All they do there is to “Refer” you to another do nothing doc.

    Here at least you can get good educated doctors, not necessarily in the USSA, but other countries have fine schools and produce very competent doctors who know and use modern technology. I’m happy with my 22K back surgery. Back in the USSA it would’ve been at least 40K and maybe been successful. In and out in 2 days…2 weeks later 75% no pain and almost full recovery. 2 months later…no pain, no drugs, 100% back to everyday work.

    Medical insurance is about the same as in the USSA….unaffordable for us. The local clinics out here do just fine for the small stuff and we get free meds sometime.

    Just Sayin…I’m in no rush to go back…if I’m that sick I’d rather die here where I live and bury me on my Finca.


  8. Whoa! Lighten up Noris! To get the type of care you are talking about, you do have to go to Panama City and in the hospitals in Panama City it won’t be cheap. Care in David is less than Panama City, but for some things, you will not find the care here in David.

    I have one of the better insurance companies in Panama and it costs me $700 a month, The price went up almost 60% when I turned 70. I recently had some medical tests and submitted close to $400 in receipts to the company. They paid $45 dollars.

    The only thing insurance companies consistently insure is that they make money. I am not aware of your Panamerican Life Insurance company, but I would like to have a contact to look at what is provided for $160. In today’s world the formula is 1. Want more – Pay more. 2. Want the same – pay more. 3. Want less – pay more.

    I did not say that Larry contacted tuberculosis in Panama. He contacted it serving in the US Air-force. My point is he is getting better care in the US and panamanian medical physicians recommended he return for the best care. Your point about free inoculations is correct and I take advantage of them.

    Don’t misquote me, I said nothing about 20% life expectancy by going to hospitals here. I merely gave the percentages for people I have visited here. I can tell you that one was requested to leave because they said they needed the bed and his doctor said he was fine. he left the hospital at one in the afternoon and I received at 6 PM by his landlady that he was not well and he died soon thereafter. I think I counted him in the non survival rate, because it was the hospital’s fault that he left the hospital.

    You may have missed my main point for posting this piece and it was to know your physical condition before you make the move. I stand by that recommendation.

    The biggest mistake anyone can do is to believe that they are moving to a utopia and they can have the best for less. Everything has its cost. Each person myst weigh the benefits against the risk and on their own scale (not yours or mine) and then decide if this is the place for them.

  9. I think you’ve hit on a sore spot for some people Don. We’re very fortunate in that our supplementary insurance was able to be converted to comprehensive insurance when we moved to Panama through my spouse’s Department of National Defence (Canadian military) pension.

    We have had friends that have tried to obtain health insurance here and keep on being turned down for pre existing conditions. We haven’t had to use any of the services of the doctors in our area but amigos who have had major “incidents” have them taken care of in the city, a 4.5 trip from here. For minor incidents the health care services in our area and in Chitre an hour away are fair enough and it seems that the doctors are more thorough than they are at home. We are also one of the fortunate communities where a new health centre is being built.

    I agree, I wouldn’t contemplate moving to Panama without a thorough health check and having any major conditions looked after before the move. In fact our move was planned on making sure that I had seen several breast health specialists for my pre existing condition and being given a clean bill of health.

    As for the Panamerican Life Insurance Company, Holly’s post with the information and her experience with the application as well as a pictures of the brochure can be found here: http://hollycarter184.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/health-insurance-day/


  11. Don, again this piece is why we all enjoy your blog..

    I’ve been using Chiriquí Hospital and had been buying their insurance and a cancer floater for several years… I found I got great service and I’m currently 58 years old. Only Panama has treated me as a pensioner at such an early age as I moved from Costa Rica 5 years back..

    I will stay in Panama/Costa Rica until my end as returning to the US not worth the so called better medical system. As pointed out above the new Obamacare will force those who don’t have unlimited funds into a poor medical situation and no better than down here.

    We just took a friend who had an accident to Mae Lewis and she received wonderful emergency service with a series of exrays and an orthopedist came in. She was casted an kept over night. She is a comfortable lady at age 78 an wasn’t too worried about the final bill.

    She was shocked at the $ 129.00 check out fee…… She has Medicare back home, but, intends on staying.

    The reason I am writing this post is actually to pass on something I recently learned from the doctor at Mae Lewis. He changed our way of life as we learned that since my wife is a tica and I’m a Costa Rican resident; I am required by Law to be an active member of the Costa Rica caja medical system. As is my wife and we learned that Panama public hospitals honor the coverage.. This fact allowed me to give up my Chiriquí Hospital insurance and we can use any an all public hospitals in Panama.

    This is fantastic because Costa Rica public hospitals are bankrupt and are under staffed. They normally don’t even have even the basics on hand. This is the reason President Martinelli met with the Costa Rica President to try an model a Panamanian system to help the thousands on Panamanians who have no coverage. Also, the Costa Rica system is the single payer system Obama is trying to snake into the USA.. MALO MALO MALO !

    He will succeed as were seeing major companies pull out of certain larger states and as time goes by these companies will die off.. This will kill the US system as time goes by and many who might choose medicine will not..

    Sampson Valverde

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